I recently had a semi solo show featuring some of my icons. It was in a very small gallery in New Mexico, an area rife with iconography, so I was hopeful it would be successful. And it was, just not in the way I had imagined.
The gallery owner, a dear friend of many years, had invited a local person to speak about iconography at the opening reception. An art dealer of some sort, she dressed in the stereotypical NYC all black so you would know she was a serious art person.
Clearly incensed at my modern and highly individual take on iconography, she proceeded to systematically tear my work apart before the audience of reception attendees. Apparently in her mind, everything I did was mere nanoseconds from blasphemy as she lectured on and on about how traditional iconography should be done. And she was correct; nothing I had done was traditional.
Traditional iconography, as practiced today, means that you follow very rigid, scripted standards for color, shape, and proportion. Nothing is ever individual.
Clearly, I have the skill to make that happen, and equally clearly, I chose a different path.
It reminded me of the blistering critiques I received twice a week from C.A., a bitterly unhappy professor of theatre design at Carnegie Mellon University who managed over three years to rip me apart to the point where, upon graduating, I felt completely incapable of any sort of competent work, and anticipated a long career of flipping burgers. But that was a very long time ago, and I care considerably less about the opinions of “experts” who make themselves feel better and more competent by tearing down the work of others. So I smiled and then took my own turn at presenting my work to the reception attendees, many of whom spoke highly of the work afterward. My pieces, like the saints they depict, are real, personal, individual, and flawed. Not a lofty ideal of a saint, but a real person, like you or me. I believe we all have the capability of doing something remarkable, and remarkably good.
I suppose I really owe her a debt of gratitude, not only for pointing out so very clearly the true humanity in my work, but also for showing me that yes, I am on the right track.
Best of luck to you, Athena.